Use Classes and Permitted Development
Planning law deals with different land and building uses through the system of ‘Use Classes’. Some changes from one ‘Use Class’ to another require planning permission from the local planning authority (i.e. Cornwall Council), whilst others do not. The ones that don’t are called “Permitted Development’ because they automatically get planning permission under the planning law.
An Article 4 Direction is a direction under Article 4 of the General Permitted Development Order under which the local planning authority can withdraw specific ‘Permitted Development’ across a defined area.
Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) are covered by Planning Use Class ‘C4 Houses in multiple occupation’ – small shared houses occupied by between three and six unrelated individuals, as their only or main residence, who share basic amenities such as a kitchen or bathroom.
Large HMOs, i.e. occupied by more than 6 residents, don’t fall into a specific use class, and they are called ‘sui generis’ in planning language, which means ‘Of its own kind; in a class by itself; unique’
Change of use from Use Class C3 (i.e. an ordinary dwelling house) to C4 (an HMO) is a ‘Permitted Development’, for which a planning application and formal planning permission is not required. Equally, change from C4 back to C3 is also ‘permitted development’.
If more than 6 occupants are involved, than as a ‘sui generis’ use a planning application and planning permission is always required.
Thus it is possible for property owners to convert an entire property into accommodation for up to 6 individuals without the need for a Planning application and the scrutiny that goes with the planning process.
Using an Article 4 Direction to control HMOs
However, if a Local Planning Authority wishes to bring HMOs under local planning control, to positively manage the location of new HMOs in order to create sustainable, healthy and inclusive communities and to avoid further increases in concentrations in certain streets, it can use an Article 4 Direction, often referred to as an ‘A4D’, to withdraw ‘Permitted Development’ for them. This means that Planning Permission would be required for an HMO regardless of its size.
A4Ds have been used to bring HMOs under local Planning control by Exeter, Brighton and Hove, Leeds, Charnwood (Loughborough Uni), Nottingham, Oxford and Cheshire West and Chester Councils.
Why is the link with the Neighbourhood Plan important?
As Planning Permission will be required for new HMOs, there needs to be Planning criteria against which such planning applications can be assessed. Most councils have adopted policies in their Local Plans specifically focused on HMOs, with some adding Supplementary Planning Guidance, and in one example at Exeter St James, a Neighbourhood Plan has included policy on HMOs.
Its important to note that Planning can only be about ‘Land Use’ issues so can only control issues such as physical impacts on adjoining property (e.g. standards of daylighting, sunlight, outlook or privacy), highway and traffic impacts, appropriately located on site provision of amenity space, refuse storage and car and bicycle parking, etc. It can’t control matters of personal behaviour, noise, site cleanliness etc, which are controlled through other laws.
The use of A4Ds to control HMOs may have the unintended consequence of reducing the supply of lower cost accommodation for non-students, leading to increased rent levels and housing stress, more rough sleeping, ‘dossing’ or ‘sofa surfing’, squatting, and so on.
Therefore it is important that the specific planning policies riding with an A4D requiring planning permission for HMOs should be carefully balanced, to ensure that whist further HMOs in ‘saturated’ areas may be resisted, they will be permitted in other areas where there is the capacity for more, subject to appropriate planning conditions.
See also: Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (as amended) and the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 (as amended)
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